Oh man. That was fun. Like, insanely fun. The Heels beat the brakes off NC State, again, by scoring a whopping 113 points in the Dean Dome. The final score was “just” a 17-point victory of 113-96, but that happens when Kevin Keatts still has three starters on the floor at the end of the game, and Roy Williams has the modern-day Blue Team/Blue Steel/Biscuits Crew.
Aside from assuring, once again, that Kevin Keatts is not a winner, let’s take a dive into what we learned.
Something has changed in this team the last few weeks. After barely winning the rebounding battles against undersized Virginia Tech and outmanned Georgia Tech, the Heels have found a different level of aggression. It was on display again last night, as they dominated the glass 41-27. Like the final score, that’s also misleading, as they held a 40-21 advantage when the starters finally headed to the bench in the final minutes. That comes three days after grabbing 47 rebounds against Louisville.
More importantly, that aggression led to a more diverse offensive performance. The Heels finished 8-21 from three, a respectable 38%, but that was the tied for the fourth fewest attempts on the season. For a team that many thought would have to shoot the lights out to win games, UNC just had their best offensive game of the season and only hit eight three-point attempts.
Instead, the North Carolina matched NC State in the paint, with 50 points. They then dominated them at the foul line, going hitting 31 of their 37 freebies. All night long, the Heels pushed the pace, fed the post, and attacked the rim. Just as they did against Louisville, they dared NC State to match them man for man. Even with a 39-19 advantage in bench scoring, NC State literally had no answers until UNC’s walk-ons got in the game.
Garrison Brooks is Underappreciated
The senior trio of Luke Maye, Cameron Johnson, and Kenny Williams score 65 combined points, Coby White continue to turn into a possible NBA lottery pick, and Nassir Little broke the 25-minute mark for the first time all season. They’ll get the attention, but fans need to start appreciating everything Garrison Brooks does for this team. Tuesday night was a quintessential Brooks performance, and most people completely missed it.
Brooks finished the night with a seemingly good-not-great 8 points, 10 rebounds, and 6 assists. Those all exceed his conference averages, and he accomplished them while playing just 22 minutes, which is less playing time than his season average. In other words, more production in less playing time.
Oh, and those 10 rebounds were second highest on the team, only trailing Luke Maye’s 12. Maye and Brooks combined for over half of UNC’s rebounds. Of Brooks’ 10 rebounds, 5 were on the offensive end, which led the team. And those 6 assists? Also a team high. On a night when every major UNC rotation player had at least two turnovers, Brooks had zero.
None of this even takes into account what he brings on defense. He sat out the final 7:20 of the first half. When he exited, North Carolina held a 33-21 lead. In those final 7 minutes and 20 seconds, NC State scored 19 points, almost doubling their point total from the first 12:40. So, if you’re rolling your eyes because Brooks “gets in foul trouble” or he “doesn’t have post moves”, it’s time to sit in a corner and nurse what I can only assume is your first beer.
Brooks has flaws and will have quieter games, but his effort and physical play is critical to this team’s success.
Just because NC State and their fans want this to be a rivalry, does not mean that a rivalry exists. Nor does a rivalry exist because any Tar Heel fan over the age of 35 tells us that this is a rivalry. At the very least, not in college basketball. Dexter Strickland said it first, and Joel Berry seemingly set the Triangle on fire last year. Luke Maye, despite his on-court play, downplayed the significance as well. The numbers back them all up. Let’s have some fun.
Roy’s 30-4 record as UNC’s head coach gets all the attention, but that’s just the appetizer for the main dish. Since 1990-1991, the first year after the Jim Valvano era, N.C. State has only beaten North Carolina 13 times. 29 seasons. 13 wins. That’s it.
Only two of the “pre-expansion” ACC teams have fewer wins against UNC during that same time — Clemson (9) and Florida State (12). Though to be fair, the Seminoles didn’t even join the ACC until 1991-1992 and Clemson has their own ancient curse they can’t break in Chapel Hill. Note: Mathematically, Florida State can match NC State this year.
Meanwhile, Georgia Tech (18), Wake Forest (17), Virginia (20), Duke (38), and Maryland (17) have had more success against North Carolina than State. Maryland hasn’t even been in the ACC since 2014, and they still have more wins than the Wolfpack.
During those same years, nine teams have won an ACC regular season or tournament championship. They are UNC, Duke, Maryland, Georgia Tech, Wake Forest, Virginia, Florida State, Miami, and Notre Dame. Even the great four-way tie for first in 1995 with UVA, Maryland, UNC, and Wake saw NC State shut out of the festivities. For context, that was a four-way tie with only nine (9!) teams in the conference.
Want some more fun facts? State has not beaten North Carolina in consecutive seasons In the entire Roy era. They won four in a row in 2002 and 2003 against Matt Doherty. That was 16+ years ago. WiFi wasn’t in public places and texting required pushing the same number three times to get to the correct letter.
They haven’t won 12 conference games since 1974. In the past three years alone, seven (7!) different programs won 12 or more games. They haven’t advanced past the Sweet 16 since 1988. I was three years old. Was I even alive the last time North Carolina (or Duke) really lost a recruiting battle for a key player to NCSU? One that didn’t “allegedly” cost $70,000 for one season and a losing record? When was the last time the two played a truly meaningful game? The 2012 ACC Tournament with Kendall Marshall? Maybe the 1997 ACC Tournament championship game (a UNC win)?
So, no. This is not a rivalry. No matter how badly NC State fans want it to be. Rivals are to be hated and/or respected. When your school’s crowning achievement this century is giving us Piccolo Girl and hanging a banner for a play-in game, it’s hard to feel anything but pity.
Except when UNC scores 113 points. That stuff is hilarious.